My friend, Lara, hates birds. Come on, Lara. How can you hate such beautiful animals with such pretty songs? Well, I guarantee you, Lara will NOT be moved. She HATES birds and that's that. I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with the fact that she saw a bird peck another bird to death in a cage -- an image she will never forget, and if she's reading this, something she will not be too happy about re-living (Sorry, Lara!!). Maybe she also watched Hitchcock's "the Birds" at a young age not long after that. I can't remember. But we can't help the stuff that makes an impression on us at a young age -- and those things seem to stick the most and take the most time and perspective to clear up. Death, particularly, is something that doesn't fade fast from our young memories. I started thinking about this because yesterday afternoon I found a decaying mouse in the bottom of a pile of laundry that had been sitting in the basement for a week or so. I don't know how it got there, although I have some idea who might have killed it:
suspect #1: Jezebel
suspect #2: Vana
suspect #3: Bear
I tend to be pretty calm in the kind of situations in which other people usually freak out. I was surprised at myself, though -- surprised at just how calmly I looked on this decaying animal, with tiny maggots navigating its tissues. I swept it into a dust pan and put it outside under a tree and covered it with a pile of decaying leaves. I think something has happened to me in terms of how I view death. I have come to terms in some ways with the fact that decay and decomposition are a natural part of the life cycle -- that my body, too, will someday become part of this beautiful earth. This is totally new for me and perhaps is the result of -- or was the cause for a change in philosophy. I've come to think it's important, especially when you become attached to animals who have short life spans, to appreciate this cycle.
But this isn't just about the ability to accept death. Nature is cruel and it's hard to accept the reality of one animal killing another for the sake of its survival. Much harder still is death that seems senseless -- like the death of that bird in the cage or the death of the mouse in the basement, though not many humans would see it that way (for the mouse anyway). We humans have a tendency to look at things as though we own the space we inhabit and everything else that happens to be there is in our way and we have the right to get rid of it. We don't largely have a tendency to appreciate the fact that we share this earth with a multitude of other creatures, most of whom were here long before we ever got here and did just fine without us. And that brings me to another point. Every day, I seem to decide more and more that humans are actually the cruelest animal. I hate to have you take me too seriously and think that I'm some kind of misanthropist, because there are many humans who I love very dearly, but I am pretty constantly appauled at the human race's disregard for the suffering of other humans and of every other creature who inhabits this planet.
Here are a few examples:
Deforestation, which is done primarily, I think, to make room for cattle to graze so that Americans can eat their precious beef (but also for the production of lumber and paper products), has devastated vast forest dwelling ecosystems for centuries and continues to do so at the risk now of our planet's very survival.
In the name of our "way of life", which uses up the majority of the world's resources and produces the majority of the world's pollution, our government wages war, which is a travesty in itself, but more tragically includes the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
Humans sit back while millions of animals are kept in deplorable conditions and slaughtered inhumanely in factory farms, for the sake of meat that is cheap and conveniently packaged. And we routinely do cruel experiments on animals, not just for the sake of essential scientific knowledge, but to test cosmetic products.
I could go on about how cruel I think humans are, but I'll spare you but one more example. I was watching a program on PBS about the history of Niagara Falls. Did you know that in 1827, William Forsyth, of the Pavillion hotel, with the help of John Brown and General Parkhurst Whitney, proprietor of the American Eagle Hotel, staged the first tourist stunt at Niagara Falls by sending the lake schooner "Michigan" with a cargo of live animals over the Falls? The victims included: two bears, a buffalo, two foxes, a raccoon, an eagle, a dog, and 15 geese. One bear and one goose were the only ones to survive the fall. This was considered "the ultimate in entertainment".
So, that was almost 200 years ago, and you'd think nothing like that would happen today, thanks to organizations like the ASPCA, but groups who hope to protect the welfare of animals and the environment are still endlessly bombarded with cases in which their vigilence is the last hope to save those in need and often is in vain. I hope there are shifts to come in the way the mass culture views our role on this planet... that perhaps more of us can see the value in protecting and caring for (or at least not continuing to systematically destroy and abuse) our fellow earthly inhabitants. Well, and I guess I also have a little hope that someday Lara will like birds again. Not even the chickadee, Lara, who sings, "Chick-a-dee-dee"??